Welcome to Curbed Interviews, a new column in which the talented Raina Cox (of If the Lamp Shade Fits and Curbed's Moonlighting series) interviews major players in shelter media and interior design. Have a suggestion for someone whose voice should be heard? Send it here.
Born Bruce Boxley Blackwell in Virginia horse country, celebrated interior designer Bunny Williams has long championed the cozy society decorating of her upbringing. "I was taught to respect beautiful things but also to use them," says Williams of her childhood. "The good china was not kept in the cupboard." Her classic interiors reflect a lifestyle of stealth wealth, good bourbon in crystal decanters, and Christmas decor purchased on holiday in Naples. But don't call this legendary decorator an anachronism. Williams, who calls herself "a bit of a maverick," blogs, Tweets, and has four monographs under her belt. (The latest, Scrapbook for Living, "encourages everyone to make a house their own.") Here, she shares with her thoughts on iPads, the state of American decorating, and what gives a house soul.
Your design career has spanned more than 40 years, with two decades at the venerable Parish-Hadley followed by 23 years as head of your own firm. How do you feel American decorating evolved in that time?
Everything today is accessible to everyone and the role of the designer has changed. Our clients are more involved and want to participate in the process. Designers need to have a strong point of view and be good editors for their clients so that smart decisions are made that make the final project a success for everyone involved. Running a good design office and taking care of the business side is vital. All the creativity in the world is useless if there is no proper follow-through.
We are also living more casually than ever and we want spaces that are comfortable that we can really use. The formality and fuss of the past is over—we don’t have time for that. Everyone wants to relax and enjoy their houses but keep things simple and with easy maintenance. Technology is also a huge factor in creating livable interiors today. Designers need to stay on top of things. Smart houses are getting smarter daily. Global influences allow us to all be connected and inspired by one another.
You’ve been blogging, Tweeting and on Facebook for two years and recently held a flash sale with One Kings Lane. Some might think it incongruous that one of the great “society” designers would embrace social media. What prompted you to do so?
I must admit that social media was initially a challenge but something that, with some training from my young staff, has been an exciting addition to my world. It is great to keep up with friends and fans via my blog and our Facebook page. I do my best to keep everyone tuned into what I am up to through Twitter. I have my iPad with me all the time so I can communicate easily and check my favorite websites and apps. I am still amazed that the world is at our fingertips every second and I get a kick out of knowing what’s happening. Though, I must confess, I love turning everything off and disappearing for a while.
Your BeeLine Home collection launched three years ago during the depths of the recession. Were you concerned about introducing a specialty furnishings line at a time when discretionary spending was at a near standstill?
My BeeLine Home collection was in the works in my head for several years before it launched in 2008. It's something I have always wanted to do and knew that there was a place in the market for a collection like this. The pieces are inspired by ideas I search for in my design projects but can’t find—great little drinks tables, upholstery with interesting lines, the right scale, and the right pitch for the seats and backs, practical pieces like desks and bedside tables, and lamps with gorgeous glazes in classic forms. Everything needed to be beautifully crafted and well priced.
It was a scary time to launch, but I believe one needs to keep moving forward and that BeeLine would find an audience. Happily, we have been embraced by consumers and designers and our collection is selling well and growing. We introduced our third collection in High Point in April and had a great response. I have a great team behind me and there is no end to my ideas for new pieces, so I am very excited about our future.
Please share a few of your rules about decorating.
I don’t totally live by the rules but I do believe decorating needs a good foundation, so I always keep these things in mind:
· Well-designed rooms need a focal point, a good floorplan, and furnishings with the proper scale to suit the space.
· A great paint color on the walls is the fastest and least expensive way to furnish a room.
· Arrange living room furniture so that at least eight people can have a conversation. In a large room, organize the furniture into smaller conversation groups so that either two people or 20 can feel comfortable in the space.
· Sofas and other major pieces of upholstery are best covered in simple fabrics in subtle colors that one can live with for a long time. Accessorize with colorful pillows that can be easily changed.
· Working on a budget inspires clever ideas—repurposing things like Indian bedspreads for curtains, stenciling a graphic design on a sisal rug, or using architectural elements as artwork.
· Every room needs a surprise—something that doesn’t match. It could be a pop of color, contemporary art, a painted finish, or a character chair.
Two weeks ago, you were honored by regional shelter magazines group Cottages & Gardens. Tell us about it.
Receiving the Innovation in Design Award from Connecticut Cottages & Gardens was a very special moment for me and made me feel extremely proud to be honored, especially as an innovator. I have always been a bit of a maverick, and I think that helped me have the courage to start my own business. Although my designs are rooted in tradition, I challenge myself to add something new to each project and try never to repeat myself.
· Bunny Williams [official site]
· @BunnyWilliams [Twitter]
· Buzz [Bunny Williams]
· BeeLine Home by Bunny Williams [Facebook]
· BeeLine Home [official site]
· How Bunny Williams and John Rosselli Decorate for Christmas [Curbed National]